About Me

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I am a high school English teacher in an urban high school in Oklahoma City. I am a member of the American Federation of Teachers, Local 2309. I am a Democrat, a union activist and a worker for social justice. I also am a Christian (Congregationalist). I play chess and coach our school chess team.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Not My America


I am not one of those who say of Trump, "He's not my president."  Of course, he is by definition of having won the Electoral College vote (though not the vote of the people) and by definition of me being an American.  

However, what he symbolizes is an alien spirit in this country I love. Therefore, I can truly say that Trump's America is not my America.

My America starts with the idea that justice is for all people, not just those who look, pray, think, and believe the way I do. 

My America believes in the principle that by helping all we help ourselves.  I call this the "Lincoln Principle" taken from Abraham Lincoln's December 1, 1862 address to Congress (given 1 month before the Emancipation Proclamation) when he stated:

In giving freedom to the slave, we assure freedom to the free. . . .
 For me this means that whenever we seek the good of others in America regardless of who they are, we do good for ourselves. Whenever we seek to exclude others from the benefits of our community, we do harm to ourselves.

My America is a land of tolerance, a land that celebrates diversity and draws strength from the contributions of many cultures.

My America believes our greatest weakness is not a lack of military might, but a lack of empathy for the plight of the marginalized and dispossessed in our world.

My America rejects fear and accepts openness towards others.

My America is not Trump's America.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

History Rhymes

Some have called this the Best Book of 2016

Some weeks ago, I read the above novel, which uses a conceit by making the historical Underground Railroad an actual railroad line with various stations that transport runaway slaves to the North. Whitehead's alternative history novel is at times heartbreaking, at times inspiring, and even at time horrific. I highly recommend it.

I feel very strongly that this book has lessons for our own situation as we face the Trump presidency. 

In our present time, I feel there are parallels between the 19th Century Fugitive Slave Laws and the "seize and deport" actions by federal immigration officials.In both cases, American citizens have been asked to act as some sort of posse comitatus to inform on neighbors and co-workers whom they believe are wanted by the law. In both cases, we are told that these people are not, well, fully people; they are property, or they are illegal.

Now the knee-jerk reactions to that statement will run thusly:
They ARE illegal! What part of "illegal" do you not understand? 
Answer: The slaves were "illegal" once they tried escape their bondage. The law called them property. Their attempt to escape was theft for which the property owner could administer any punishment he saw fit including torture and death.  The law makes the undocumented "illegal." Perhaps the above response begs the question. The question should be, is the law just? Does it do good or harm? My answer is the law is harmfully unjust.

Illegal immigrants are NOT slaves! They came here on their own and can, and must, leave either on their own or by force if needed.
Answer: True, in so far as that goes; in fact, the two examples are nearly mirror opposite images. Slaves were forced here against their will and tried to escape their forced labor. Undocumented workers came here by their own free will and wish to remain so they can labor for a better life for themselves and their families. 

However, what unites these two groups is the question of justice and human dignity. Slaves tried to regain their dignity by fleeing the owners' attempt to degrade them to the level of animals. Undocumented workers try to regain their dignity by escaping poverty, oppression, violence, and the real possibility of forced slavery at the hands of dictators or gangs. 

This brings me to the historic Underground Railroad and the present day Sanctuary Movement about which I wrote in yesterday's post. 
In both cases, citizens have taken upon themselves the burden of protecting vulnerable people from unjust laws.

In both cases, law enforcement officials and some politicians wish to punish those operating the sanctuaries for aiding and abetting "law breakers," slaves and undocumented workers.

In both cases, the officials have no qualms about breaking up families, subjecting citizens to arbitrary search, seizures and arrests.

In both cases, these "hunters and catchers" do not care that those they arrest may be subject to abject poverty, assault (often including rape), danger and death.

Again, there are differences, but enough similarities that those of us calling for sanctuaries in cities, churches and now colleges should feel that we have precedents that show that we are fighting on the side of justice. 




Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Make the Oklahoma City Public School District a Sanctuary

Thousands have signed petitions urging their campuses to protect undocumented students, who will likely be at increased risk of deportation under President-elect Donald Trump. (Photo: AP taken from the web site Common Dreams commondreams.org)

Since the election of Donald Trump with his message of deportation and exclusion, several colleges, particularly in New York state, have become "Sanctuary Campuses" to offer protection to undocumented students facing deportation. These sanctuary campuses refuse cooperation with federal authorities by denying them access to student records, barring immigration enforcement officers permission to come on campus to apprehend suspected undocumented students, and affirming that all their students have a right to an education free from harassment and intimidation. (Adapted from an article by Kate Aronoff in the social justice journal In These Times.)

I propose that the Oklahoma City Public School District with it large immigrant student body, which includes Hispanics, Asiatic, and African children, join this movement by declaring that our district is a sanctuary district, not only for its students but also for its staff, and that all of its campuses, workplaces, and offices are sanctuary sites.  As Claudia Carvajal, an NYU law student whose family emigrated to the US in 2012, stated at a rally in New York City:

In our current political climate, the rhetoric used by politicians and institutions is critical. . . . Anything short of a declaration that explicitly sends a message to the incoming [Trump] administration . . . falls short. (Kate Aronoff "Campuses Without Borders" In These Times, January 2017: 9)
I am in the process of contacting various administrators, board members, and community leaders to gain their support. Could my friends in the Central Oklahoma area, particularly those in the OKC school district help in this resistance? 

  

Saturday, June 18, 2016

School in the good old days.

Sometimes, actually most of the time, I get weary of those who say, "American education isn't as good or rigorous as it was back in my day." I present to you a textbook I rescued from old John Marshall High School. "Cavalcade of American Writing" Copyright 1961, edited by Gunnar Horn.xon Americans except for a couple of "Negro Spirituals" made up, according to the author, by "humble and uneducated slaves." Marion Anderson's picture is on the introductory page making hers the only named black person in the book. The song "Dixie" is in the anthology next to "The Battle Hymn of the Republic." Henry W. Grady's "New South," a praise for the South written in a time when Jim Crow was firmly established as the law of the old Confederacy, is included in the anthology.
I think I might have used this text when I was in high school in the 60s. There are about 111 selections in this by around 70 authors, 9 are women. There are no selections from any non-Anglo-Sa
Nearly all the questions following the selection are what we in the education biz would classify as DOK1 responses to the text. Typical is this one about Lincoln's "Gettysburg Address": "What explanation does Lincoln give for making his address short?"
My point is this. We teach much more to our students today. We teach many more authors, a larger variety of authors, and we ask much more of our students in their responses.
We are doing a better job of teaching today to a far more difficult environment than those who went before us. We owe them much, but we have nothing to be ashamed of in comparing ourselves to them.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Review of "Water to Wine"

Water to Wine: Some of My StoryWater to Wine: Some of My Story by Brian Zahnd
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Water to Wine: Some of My Story is Brian Zahnd's memoir of his spiritual journey from "Americanized Christianity" to a deeper level of Christian living. Zahnd first encountered the Christian faith during the "Jesus Movement" of the early 1970s. He began a non-denominational Pentecostal church named "Word of Life Church" in St. Joseph, Missouri that grew into a highly successful fellowship.

Despite his success as a pastor and much in demand speaker, Zahnd began to feel a his faith was lacking depth, and so he began a study and walk of faith that led him to discover more a deeper theology and prayer life than he had experienced in more formulaic Christian worship and belief.

He developed an appreciation for Christian thinkers like St. Augustine, Thomas Merton, G. K. Chesterton, and St. Francis of Assisi. He read Karl Barth's Dogmatics, no easy chore I can affirm, as well as other theologians. He also developed a deeper prayer life through spiritual mystics like Julian of Norwich along with a host of other poets and singers, including Bob Dylan.

I found his story interesting in that he rejects the typical conservatism of most evangelical Christianity. He calls his uncritical viewing of the American air attacks on Baghdad during the 1991 Gulf War his "worst sin." He says that his changing perspective have cost him many former friends and church members. He also is critical of the evangelical churches uncritical endorsement of capitalism. His criticism reminds me of something I encountered a long time ago and affected my attitude toward conservative evangelicalism.

Several decades ago I was in a Christian book store and saw some "biblical action figures" for sale. This was during the "golden age" of action figures, if such an age exists, featuring "He-Man," "Skeletor," "She-Rah," and others. These articulated dolls were heroes like "Samson," "David," "Moses," "Joshua," and "Gideon." There were even villains like "Goliath" or "Pharoah." It seemed to me that someone had taken a consumer product and had poured "Christian sauce" over it to make it acceptable and also to make a buck.

I find his spiritual journey similar to my own in many ways. I was raised evangelical, in the holiness tradition, but have since joined a church involved in the social gospel. My own passion is for social justice. This is one area of lack I see in Zahnd's story. He hints that he may be open to working for "justice of all," but he does not detail any concrete steps he has taken in this direction.


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Sunday, March 06, 2016

Notes from Mayflower UCC 3/6/16


Here are some notes I took while attending Mayflower this morning along with Cat. My comments are in [brackets].

Sermon by Rev. Lori Walke
Rev. Lori Walke

Scripture: Luke 15:1-3, 11-32 [The Parable of the Prodigal Son]
Sermon Title: THE WORST PARABLE

Jesus is criticized by the Pharisees [think-Club for Growth & other such groups] and the scribes [think any group of religious fundamentalists]

We all like to imagine ourselves as the Prodigal Son in this story because we like the idea that no matter how badly we mess things up, we can still be redeemed.

We often find ourselves acting like the older brother who is critical of the way that the father treats the wastefully extravagant son (which is what the word "prodigal" means. We want to see consequences for bad choices.

We don't want to play the part of the "prodigal" father who is wastefully extravagant not only with his welcome and forgiveness of the son.

We need to learn how to say 3 things: "We Love You. You Are Forgiven. Welcome Homes."

[My question, "So when does love and forgiveness become enabling?"]


Thursday, March 03, 2016

What Happened When Our Juniors Were Required to Take the SAT on Wednesday

Actually, this was not exactly high-stakes, but the attitude the kids had towards it was about the same.
On Wednesday, all juniors in the Oklahoma City Public School district were required to take the SAT exam.  This is the brainchild of someone brought into the district by the new administration. Here's how our kids responded.

A large number of juniors were absent from the test on Wednesday.  I was the proctor for what was supposed to be a group of 20 but only 15 bothered to show up.  So about a quarter of the students or more elected not to take the test with their feet.

It was very warm in the testing room. The temperature on the room thermostat, which the teachers do not control, rose to about 81 degrees. We managed to find a couple of room fans, one of which is my own, to attempt to cool the kids down.  Bottled water was provided, but it was not refrigerated. 

Heads began to go down rather early in the test. TB put his head down at the start. IM complained about the heat and then decided to nap. 

A few seemed to look upon the test as an opportunity for them to show how well they can perform on the test and/or get into college. Most, though, saw this as something they had to endure.'

I wonder if this is because we educators do not demand enough of these students, and so they are not prepared. Or has the culture of poverty, the hopelessness of these children so stunted their ambitions that they do not think this test is worth the effort it takes to perform well since they do not see that they can reap any rewards from it.

Despite all the problems I see, it did appear that most of the 15 students were making an effort to do well. 

Then they begin to get restless. We started at 8:00am and ended at around 1 pm.  We are doing the version of the test that has an essay component.  Many students leave the essay blank, which is something they do when I give them a combination multiple choice/essay test. The essay portion has an extended bit of reading along with it. Many looked at the reading in the essay booklet and exclaimed, "Hell No!"

IM awakens from her nap and begin talking, in whispers, to her friend TT.  I wanted them separated in class, but they were pretty good for most of the test.  In the back, 3 boys start teasing each other. 

Finally, we are through, and we go down to Media Center for lunch.  The lunch crew provides a  sack lunch for the students consisting of some lunch meat, a slice of cheese, white bread, and an apple. Fortunately, someone sprang for some pizza for the crew.  

We will see what the results of the test are sometime in the future.  We are about 20 days or so from the End Of Instruction Tests.